News (If It’s Real)

Apr 23, 2012: Blood Draw

Last Monday was my quarterly check-in with the oncologist, and I had hoped that my PSA test results would come back “undetectable” — no evidence of disease. Not so. The oncologist conditioned the results with (a totally appropriate) “if it’s real.” One data point does not a trend make, especially when this particular data point is so mercurial and the amount so scant: a barely detectable PSA level of 0.04 ng/ml.

But it’s most likely real. And that’s not good because, given where I am in my cancer journey, detectable PSA can be evidence of disease. We’ll check again in three months and go from there. Stay tuned.

Assuming it’s real, though, it seems that the odds likely prevailed, and my salvage radiation probably didn’t work.


I’d like to detour from my cancer journey to (sadly) note the passing of a high-school classmate and friend, Sandi Sheff Bernstein. Sandi died April 14 of non-Hodgkin lymphoma after two contests with breast cancer. When I wrote on January 17 about the fear of recurrence that occupies all cancerians (A Stalking Circling Menace), I noted that for my friend, Sandi, recurrence was “the bear in the back room,” trying to get out. Her bear, unfortunately, did break free.

Sandi was both classy and courageous. When I disclosed in March 2011 that I have Stage 4 prostate cancer, Sandi re-entered my life — almost 50 years after our high school graduation.

It was worth the wait.

“[Cancer] is a good thing, in a way,” she wisely wrote upon her re-entry into my life. “It reminds me that life is on loan to me and I should use that time in a good way. I want to be seen as a giver and not a taker. I am very fortunate, I know, to have been a survivor twice. I would love to follow your journey and commend you on how you are handling it. Sending you my prayers and good wishes, try to make the journey work for you.”

Later she would tell me: “Attitude is so important. Fight that cancer. Never give up. And when you are well again, remember all you have learned along the way.”

In addition to her comments on this blog site, Sandi and I also had a year of email exchanges about our cancers, which were, really, conversations about life. She grasped that cancer can kill you, but only you can decide to quit living.

“So back to the bear in the bedroom,” she wrote with prescience — but without fear — in what would be her last email to me. “He’ll win this round. I just don’t know when. One thing I won’t let happen is let the bear win until the final round. I can live with him, side by side, but I still plan on enjoying the life I now have with family and friends. He’ll just have to settle on being in the back bedroom until my time has come. I won’t let my attitude be affected by this. It is still my life, and he can’t claim my attitude unless I let him…”

Shalom, Sandi. Shalom.

About Bill Curry

Stage 4 prostate cancer

9 Responses to “News (If It’s Real)”

  1. Bill, I wrote to you in a ‘Cuba Posse’ email (you’d said something about an inspiration or hero) that I’d read your blog and you were something of a hero – certainly an inspiration – to me. Little did I know. I was just diagnosed with Stage 2 Prostate cancer. Comparatively, mine is a wimpy, small c cancer. By every indicator so far, my course of action will be ‘active surveillance.’ I’ll start a drug that suppresses thee impact of testosterone on the prostate and reduces prostate size. I’ll have a PSA test every three months and another biopsy every six months for the first two years.

    The radiation urologist says I’m flying below the radar on each indicator he uses to suggest radiation is indicated – I have less than 30% of the 12 prostate sectors involved (3/12 is 25%): my most involved sector is less than 50% (at 40%); my PSA is 3.4 (it only tripped the trigger because it went up so rapidly), and my Gleason number is less than 8 (it’s ‘only’ 6).

    So this is the “bump in the road” cancer, not the life-changing cancer. But as you said in an earlier post (Keeping Abreast of Cancer) there’s a serious mental aspect to the disease. So I re-read all the “My First cancer” posts, and I’m back to using you as my inspiration. When we finally do get together, I’m buying the first few rounds of mojitos. -Lew

  2. Bill, I’m so very sorry to learn that Sandi lost her fight with that damn bear. She is the kind of lady I would have love to have met. I know you’ll keep fighting that bastard, regardless of what unreliable blood tests may say. Please continue to write about your journey — so many of us are finding strength in your strength.

  3. Sandi sounds like a compassionate, strong, interesting, kind, wonderful woman. How lucky for you both that you reconnected. I’m so sorry that she passed away. As for you, my friend, I hope the test was wrong. But if it wasn’t, I know you’ll continue to fight that bear with your Bill Curry grace, courage and ferocity! We are with you, my friend, sending bear-banishing thoughts — and of course, much love.

  4. Bill, You are fortunate to have talented and engaged medical professionals. They are fortunate to have an intellectually curious patient with an amazingly positive attitude and strong will. What a magnificent combination!

  5. Bill, Best wishes from London. Your friend Sandi was wise and courageous indeed. Fight that bear…

  6. Hey Bill – sorry to hear about Sandi. Also sorry to hear your cancer may be back. I’ve been following your progress, and I appreciate your optimism. Really enjoy your writing, too. I hope to see you guys again sometime soon.

  7. Bill I must say you are such an inspiration to me and I’m sure to all who read your posts. My niece just lost her 33 year old husband to cancer a couple weeks ago. They have a 5 yr old son who just doesn’t understand and just wants his funny daddy home. It’s always sad but I have to thank you for opening our eyes and being so positive. Maybe that’s just what happens when you are faced with this terrible creature, I don’t really know. You are remarkable! I’m so sorry to hear of your friends loss of life. She too was a fighter and inspiration. I’ll continue to pray for you.

  8. I have to admit Bill, you and all with this terrible illness are such an inspiration to me. My niece just lost her 33 year old husband to cancer a couple weeks ago. They also have a 5 year old son who just doesn’t understand yet. He just wants his funny daddy home. It’s sad but he too was such an inspiration. Thank you so much for giving us that. I will continue to keep you in my prayers and I’m sorry for the loss of your friend.


  1. SRO | My First Cancer - April 14, 2013

    […] was a hopeful discussion about an uncertain and unknowable future. Very much unlike my April 2012 check-up, which brought the despairing, hollowing out news of possible recurrence. With that came a sense of […]

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